According to the established legal position, no resident of Delhi can be forcibly removed from their houses without first being provided with alternative rehabilitation. But a high court-directed survey that can be the basis of the rehabilitation of these residents has still not been conducted.
IF the demolition notices issued by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are carried out within the next few days, thousands of people in Tughlakabad, Delhi, will lose their homes. These are poor, working-class individuals who pooled their funds and took on debt to be able to get their current housing. The threatened destruction will probably occur in chilly conditions right before children’s exams.
“How have we been paying the electrical bills if this house is unlawful, and why was the government accepting it?”Roma, 29, sat down and questioned. “How come we were handed Aadhar and Voter ID cards?” She had all the papers in her hands.
Roma is a domestic servant and the parent of two children. Her husband passed over a year ago as a result of depression and other medical problems.
Roma wonders why her home has been labelled as being in violation of the law and where the entire administration was while her family was paying their electricity bills on time.
“This place is fundamental to who I am. This location’s address was on my ration card, voter ID, and Aadhar card. How did these folks decide to declare this area unlawful after nearly ten years of residing there?”
Raju Jha, a resident of the Tughlaqabad area said, “We have been residing in the area for the last several decades. Generations have lived in the area, growing up, and earning their livelihood. While people like us are on the verge of becoming roofless, the palaces of leaders are safe.”
Anita from Kharak Satbari said, “Is it a crime to build a house in the city where we live? Has not the party in power promised ‘Jaha Jhuggi Wahan Makan’ time and again during poll time?”
People from West Bengal and Bihar make up most of the residents of the Bengali colony, which is close to the well-known Tughlaqabad Fort, built in the 14th century and currently in ruins. Muslims and Hindus coexist here in various numbers.
According to local residents, the threat to more than 2,000 dwellings will affect close to 20,000 people, many of whom are children. Because of the stress and uncertainty of the situation, children are particularly suffering and finding it difficult to focus on their academics.
In 1995, an area of 2,661 bighas around the fort was handed over to the ASI by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), for care and maintenance purposes. In March 2003, the Supreme Court directed the ASI to ensure that no further construction took place in the area. In February 2016, the Supreme Court further directed the ASI to remove all unauthorised constructions and “encroachers”, and ordered the Delhi High Court to monitor the implementation of its orders in this regard. There have been small-scale demolitions over the last few years in the aftermath of the 2016 order.
On November 24, 2022, the Delhi High Court gave the ASI six weeks to remove all “encroachments” and file another status report on January 16, 2023 this year. The current notice comes in the context of this order. The high court will next hear the matter on April 24.
Pursuant to the Delhi High Court’s directive, on January 11 this year, the ASI served notice to thousands of residents living around the Tughlaqabad Fort to vacate their houses within 15 days or face demolition.
It is to be noted that the Delhi High Court had constituted a committee on May 17, 2017 to conduct a survey of the said area in order to determine which structures existed there in 1993. This was pursuant to a Supreme Court order dated October 14, 2011 that had asked the ASI to put on record the number of people living in the protected fort area on the basis of an aerial survey it had conducted in 1993. However, the ASI had failed to do so.
Without the fulfilment of the mandatory task of conducting the high court-directed survey, the ASI has now served notice of demolition to the residents.
One of the reasons for the failure to conduct the survey is the fact that the houses of several politicians, including the residence of the Member of Parliament (South Delhi constituency) from the ruling party at the Centre, come within the stipulated area for which the survey was to be conducted.
Similarly, demolition notices were served to thousands of residents of Mehrauli on December 12 last year by the DDA. These residents are also on the verge of becoming roofless without any promise of rehabilitation.
In October last year, the DDA had demolished several houses in southwest Delhi’s Kharak Riwara Satbari area without any prior notice. In April last year, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation had said that an advance notice need not be given to carry out an anti-encroachment drive on government land.
The necessary survey per the high court’s May 2017 order, which will ascertain the legality of each household, is yet to be completed, and hence the notice is uncalled for. The notice put by ASI doesn’t mention ‘rehabilitation’.
The long legal battle that started in 2001 when one S. N. Bharadwaj petitioned the Delhi High Court to request that the historical Tughlaqabad Fort be protected from illegal encroachment by land mafia grabbing valuable land adjacent to the fort’s walls is what led to the court order for its demolition over two decades later.
The high court decided the case by merely directing the ASI to look into the petitioner’s grievances and take necessary action. Not satisfied with the decision, Bharadwaj moved the Supreme Court in 2006 to request relief after receiving no response. He contended that the DDA had received 4,435 bighas land in and around the fort area for care and maintenance. However, the land was allowed to be encroached and constructed upon.
Bharadwaj contended that as a result of the encroachment, the “historic fort is likely to be completely ruined, which will cause national loss to our ancient heritage and composite culture.”
Fears that the fort might disappear were based on administrative indifference and land grabs that previously impacted Siri Fort and Qila Rai Pithora. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi demolished the outside walls of Qila Rai Pithora for the purpose of enlarging a road without understanding its historical value, according to historian, curator, photographer, broadcaster and critic William Dalrymple, who mentions this in his book City of Djinns (1993). The edifice is the only one from Delhi’s pre-Islamic era that is still standing.
Lawyers say that if this demolition takes place, it will go against the Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015, as per which “JJ Bastis which have come up before 01.01.2006 shall not be removed (as per NCT of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second Act, 2011) without providing them alternate housing. Jhuggis which have come up in such JJ Bastis before 01-01-2015 shall not be demolished without providing alternate housing.”